26 Mar Key Principles to Maximize your CrossFit Training
By Coach Danny
I decided around a year ago that I wanted to compete in the sport of CrossFit. With experiences in both team and individual sports, I lived for competitions. I was attracted to the fact that as a CrossFit athlete, you need to be ready for anything and everything. To be competitive, I was prepared to dedicate and sacrifice a large portion of my life to becoming a better athlete. I would put in hours in the gym everyday, doing CrossFit WOD after WOD, and I saw results. However eventually, this stopped working, and I started to get injured. It took me quite some time to figure out the core problem with the help of a coach. To my surprise, the problems stemmed from following CrossFit’s training principles with a flawed approach.
But first, a bit about me and my background in fitness and sport.
Growing up as a competitive multi-sport athlete, with a freakishly athletic older brother, I was hooked on competition. Playing anything from soccer, basketball, volleyball, ball hockey and track and field, I was drawn to any sport that would allow me to compete at a high level. As I got older, I decided to switch my priorities and focus on academics and building my career as a personal trainer/strength and conditioning coach. That’s where I transitioned into the realm of strength sports, mainly focusing on bodybuilding and powerlifting. I gradually progressed at these sports for three years through my university career, and even though I enjoyed training, I started itching to get back into the competitive side of things. That’s when I found CrossFit.
CrossFit: “Constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.”
Essentially, this means performing a variety of exercises that will help with performance in your sport, job and everyday life, and doing it at a high intensity to maximize the effect of training. As logical as this sounds, there is one major problem with this ideology – it compromises the basic principles of exercise programming. There are a few ways that this methodology does this, but I am going to focus on the two main aspects that affected my training and health: the lack of foundational strength and the constant high intensity.
I looked up a local box around my area, and after doing my first CrossFit WOD, I was instantly hooked and knew right away that I wanted to compete at the highest level possible. I started off by going to CrossFit class every day and added on extra training sessions every second day. My numbers started flying up, my times got faster, and I felt fitter. However, my progress came to a halt when my old shoulder injury started to flare back up. I dealt with the injury by avoiding exercises that aggravated the shoulder, and as soon as the pain went away, I would jump right back into the full swing of things. I would re-injure my shoulder again in a few weeks, which just repeated the cycle.
Eventually, I had enough, and sought the help of therapists for treatment and a rehabilitative program, which turned out to be ineffective. The most frustrating part about the shoulder was that it passed every test for specific injuries – range of motion, impingement and joint stability, but I was still in significant pain during workouts. Using my education in kinesiology and exercise science, I was eager to try and figure out the problem but always ended up in the same place over and over again. My progress significantly slowed down, my numbers were stagnant, and I was beginning to feel hopeless. That’s when I found Engineered Bodies.
As I started working with Anthony, I discovered I wasn’t as strong as I thought. Due to previous years of training, including a solid year of consistent CrossFit training, I was able to do the majority of the movements of the sport. However, I soon found out that I was compensating in other ways to perform the movement due to the lack of foundational strict strength. What this means is that I was performing advanced movements, such as legless rope climbs, before having the pre-requisite strength for the progression for a rope climb, i.e. a shwarma. Following a program with little attention to foundational strength coupled with inappropriate intensity modification (near-maximal intensity every training session), left me with compensatory movements that compromised my safety. This is where everything started to connect with my injury. It was so simple:
If you don’t have the prerequisite strength of the movement before moving on to the next progression, you will compensate and get injured.
Going off of that, we started to attack my weaknesses with a structured program that appropriately modified intensity. This is the progress that I’ve made over the past 12 weeks working with Anthony:
- Snatching 155lbs with pain to 190lbs with no pain
- Inconsistently 240lbs clean with pain to consistently 250lbs with no pain
- Pressing virtually no weight with pain to push pressing 175lbs for 5 reps
- 3 max strict hand stand push ups to 6 SHSPU for sets
- 4 max chest to bar pull ups to 6 CTB pull ups for sets
This is my personal experience and I hope it paints a clearer picture as to which method is more effective. There is a difference between following a traditional CrossFit box program versus a personalized program focused on weaknesses and utilizing proper intensity.
Looking at CrossFit’s definition again: “Constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity”, how could one expect to get stronger at specific movements when the frequency at which they train that movement is inconsistent, and the intensity with which they train never changes?
In order to get stronger at anything, you need to gradually increase workload (intensity/volume/frequency) of that movement without over training yourself. I’m not trashing CrossFit’s entire ideology and general box programming. There are plenty of boxes out there that follow CrossFit’s training principles with sound scientific methods. They produce great programming for their members, and I believe that more and more gyms are adapting better programs. That being said, I believe that there are still too many boxes that prioritize CrossFit’s definition of exercise programming over scientific principles for structured program design. In order to progress, you need to adjust the workload with intention, and not rely on something like CrossFit’s hopper model.
In conclusion, I am still passionate about CrossFit as a training model and sport. I think when applied correctly, it can positively benefit a large population, while creating one of the best communities. I want people to stay healthy, progress in a manner that will benefit them in the long run, and not get injured. From experience, I understand how detrimental injuries can be to your progress and motivation. I truly believe that the best way to achieve safe and gradual progress is to implement CrossFit’s ideology with proven scientific approaches to program design, and build foundational strength with appropriate intensity, before performing the advanced movements with high intensity.